There have been some big changes recently on the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve. Sadly in March one of our residential Dartmoor ponies, Pignut, passed away. This has left the reserve with a herd of thirteen ponies, who are an integral component of conserving the woods and heath.
These ponies are well-loved by our staff, but they are maintained as semi-feral to ensure they are focused on the task of maintaining the reserve, rather than being too interested in our human visitors! This means, though the ponies are a beautiful sight to admire from a distance, they should be left to browse the vegetation and not be fed or handled by visitors.
Recently, the ponies had a visit from the farrier, who trims their hooves twice a year. The terrain of the woods and extensive roaming mostly keeps their feet in good shape, but a file every six months ensures they’re not becoming overgrown, which would become very uncomfortable.
Swift having her bi-annual pedicure
As the seasons rolled from spring to summer, the conservation grazing plan was finalised for the future herd movements. This led to us, recently, getting to work on relocating some of the ponies for the summer and autumn months. This involved a very patient combination of gentle leading through Yarner Wood, and encouragement into the horse trailer. Cheeky though they are, all thirteen were very co-operative. When visiting the reserve, you may now notice seven of the ponies are roaming within Yarner Wood, two are managing Yarner Heath, and the remaining four are doing a terrific job in the reserve fields.
These three sites are not the only places they will be browsing this year. In a few weeks four of the ponies will be moved to Rudge Meadow, which is in the Bovey Valley, to graze on the ever-growing bracken and holly in the glades. A herd of conservation ponies are a very important and non-invasive tool in maintaining land and slowing succession, whilst allowing natural processes to still take place.
They are fantastic for naturally shaping the structure of vegetation without damaging or completely clearing large areas. This is integral in preventing the overgrowth of dominating vegetation such as holly, whilst keeping important habitats intact and limiting disruption to wildlife. Because of this, some of the ponies will be loaned out to other sites in Devon to graze the vegetation there, including such scenic locations as the coastal grasslands on Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve. Don’t worry, though, they return home in the winter months!
Introducing the boys to their new stomping ground in the reserve fields
The various grazing sites on the reserve require different levels of management from the conservation herd. This is due to the diverse area sizes and the structure and density of the vegetation; some requiring a more intense grazing regime, while other sites need only very little, or occasional management. The herd movement plan took this into account, and in practice this needs upkeep by the reserve staff, to ensure the ponies continue to stay within their assigned areas.
Visitors to Yarner Wood may have noticed new signs on the gates entering the wood, and between the wood and the heath, stating the whereabouts of Marmaduke and his herd. These have been placed as a reminder to please shut the gates after use, to ensure the ponies are unable to stray from their grazing area. There have recently been some escapees, which risks the safety of the ponies, and makes it very difficult for us to regularly give them health checks.
Thank you to all visitors for helping us to keep the herds safe!
Written by Crystal Edwards – Crystal will be working closely with the Dartmoor ponies over the next year, just one part of her role as a Conservation Assistant.
Conservation Assistant posts are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of the Moor than the meets eye Landscape Partnership scheme.